These three letters were written by John Warner Sturtevant (1840-1892) of Keene, New Hampshire. He was the son of Luther and Isabella L. Sturtevant, was educated in the Keene public schools, and at the outbreak of the Civil War was a clerk in Tilden’s bookstore in Keene.
In August 1862, he enlisted in the 14th New Hampshire Regiment and went to the front as a sergeant in Co. G. He performed gallant service, was badly wounded at the Battle of Opequan (gunshot wound left leg, right arm hurt by shell), and was mustered out in 1865 with the rank of captain. For two years after the war he was in business in Beaufort, South Carolina, but returned to Keene in the spring of 1867 and purchased an interest in the bookstore where he was formerly engaged as clerk. He served as the town clerk of Keene in 1869 until its incorporation as a city in 1874. He was a member of the State Legislature in 1876, 1877, and 1885.
John W. Sturtevant married Clara, daughter of Charles Chase of Keene in January 1871.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Camp 14th New Hampshire Vols.
Harpers Ferry, Va.
February 21, 1864
Dear Friends at Home,
I came off duty this morning and have just got washed up and feel like myself again. A week ago today I was on as Commander of the Prison & have not been on duty since until yesterday. I was on at the same post. It’s a dirty, filthy place—no opportunity to sit or lie down—but an excellent chance of getting dirty & lousy. Consequently I stood up most of the time & found I was pretty tired this morning. I had in charge 57 federal prisoners and received during the day 8 more. I also had 11 rebel prisoners & six citizen rebels. Last night a squad of 16 of [John S.] Mosby’s guerrillas were brought in. They were captured by our men in a skirmish yesterday and were hard tickets. ¹
Lieut. [Charles E.] Howard returned from Washington on Friday having bought his officer’s rig. He looks quite stylish and is as pleased as ever a man could be. I think he will make a good officer. He stopped with H. while in Washington & says he had a splendid time. I think H. will be at home to vote. They are sending him every thing they can. I think some forty odd of my company will go & I shall try hard and come with them.
There is nothing new since I last wrote you. We have got our camp nicely established & in good order. We are drilling four hours per day & afterwards dress parade. I am pitching into tactics all my spare time & I find that there is a good deal more work in having the entire charge of a company in the field than in commanding a detachment at Sixth Street Wharf. Howard brought up my thin boots & slippers & it seems quite cozy to sit down by my fireplace and toast my feet before going to bed. I have a good bunk, a bed tick filled with cedar boughs, and plenty of blankets. I never slept better or warmer in my life. I am boarding with the company at present for I have no opportunity of messing and there are no boarding houses in the vicinity.
When I wrote you last, the weather was bitter cold. I see by the papers you are having very cold weather at home. It’s moderated a good [deal], however, & is now quite comfortable. Our men are out on scout picket and guarding at several places. Three of my boys that went to the hospital when we first came here returned to duty again yesterday. Cyrus Hurd ² is still in [the] Hospital with rheumatism. He will never be of any use to the service and never ought to have come. One of my company has variloid [mild form of small pox] but is doing well. The most of the company are tough and enjoying it well.
I am going to write to H. and to W. this evening. Ask me all the questions you wish and I will answer. News is very scarce and I am afraid my letters will be dull while I am here. I bought some tea and have left off coffee. My health is splendid. I never felt better. Give my love to all the friends. Punch up Buck. Write often.
Your ever affectionate, — John
¹ In 1864, Harpers Ferry was under martial law. The duties of the soldiers garrisoned there included searching and arresting spies in the vicinity, scouting for deserters and traitors, processing prisoners of war, and searching citizens and maintaining military security in an occupied enemy town.
² Cyrus Hurd enlisted 12 December 1863 at the age of 41 in Co. G, 14th New Hampshire Infantry. He was discharged for disability on 20 September 1864 at Concord.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
On picket near Halltown, Va.
August 26th 1864
Dear Friends at Home,
It is a cool lovely afternoon and really a pleasure to be out of camp on picket. I am in command of 80 men who are making themselves comfortable under the trees & enjoying themselves in roasting corn, frying pork, eating, sleeping, and writing. The Major is in command of the picket & is here & there as occasion requires. Capt. Berry command the line on the right about 10 rods in advance of us & Capt. Hall on the left. Fifty rods in front of our lines us our advanced post & post of the most danger. There is but one way of approach to it on our side & the instant a man’s head appears, “zip” goes a ball at it. I have just come in from this post having been sent out by the Major to make a change in the position of some of the men & can now say that I have been “under fire.” I was several times fired at & often times their ugly slugs came nearer than I cared for, I shall now have an easy time on the reserve until tomorrow morning when we shall be relieved.
I wrote you yesterday morning & have not much additional news. I have not seen a New York or Boston paper since our movements in the Valley & do not know whether they report our doings or not. The only papers we get are the Baltimore American & Philadelphia Enquirer; they both have correspondents with our army. I wish you would put in a Journal with the Sentinel occasionally.
Yesterday our men were all at work on the earthworks in front of our camp. The Col. is determined they shall be the best of any in the Division & as building such works is more his forte than anything else in military, I think he will make his works the best. It works the boys pretty hard but they had rather do that than so much marching.
We get up at 3½ every morning & “stand to arms” until sunrise. This you will see makes a pretty long day & to one who has been used to laying in bed until 7 or 8 in the morning, it’s a sudden change. I manage however to have my afternoon nap almost every day & get along well. The nights are getting quite cool but I am fortunate in having a woolen blanket. They have been cutting down the allowance of baggage that officers can carry, giving but one valise to a company. It does not affect me, however, for I am the only officer with [Co.] “G” & can carry all I wish or need.
Fred Webster is very unpopular in the regiment. He does not try to please or accommodate anyone. A part of his duty is to furnish blanks for Quarterly & Monthly Returns & I never ask him for my supply but what he grumbles & often times says he has not got any, when by going to Lucius Willard I find he has any quantity. I can go to any quartermaster in the Brigade or Division & although they are perfect strangers to me, I can get blanks off them much more cheerfully than I ever do from Fred. He is always telling that he is going to resign. I wish he would. There are none that would be sorry to see him go. Capt. Johnson & his Company (e) have been detached from the regiment as Pioneer Company for the Brigade. I am sorry to have him go for he & I are good friends.
If anything new turns up before the mail closes, I will write more. Love to you all. Write often. Ever your affectionate son, — John
In camp near Halltown [Virginia]
August 27th 1864
I came in off picket this morning at 8 having had a very pleasant time. Last night I went on a little excursion that was rather interesting. Our advanced post is in the yard & by the house of a Mrs. Henderson—a strong Secesh as are her five daughters. One of her sons in a captain on Mosby’s gang & another is in the 12th Va. Cavalry. ¹ Our pickets at night are withdrawn into the cornfield below the house & the rebs advance theirs. About dark last night the Major had word that one of Mrs. Henderson boys 12 years old left home last Monday & went inside the rebel line & remained until last night & then returned. Thinking he might have some valuable information, the Major sent me to bring him to the reserve. I took a guard of one man & stole quietly up [to] the house, knocked at the door which was opened, & I went in, found the lad—a bright boy—and brought him away safely. This morning I took him to Gen. Grover for examination & from him to Gen. Sheridan. He gave us some valuable information.
Our mail came tonight & yours & H’s letter. It was most acceptable for I had not heard for a long time. I was very glad H. was enjoying himself so well. The Musical Institute makes me think of home strongly. I should like to be there. the mail is going in from here & I must close. Will write again soon. Love to all. Ever your affectionate son, — John
¹ Possibly Capt. John D. Henderson, Co. A, 12th Virginia Cavalry (formerly in 7th Va. Cavalry)??
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Camp 14th New Hampshire
Four miles from Charleston, Va.
August 29th 1864 6 a.m.
Dear Friends at home,
I shall have to be economical of my paper I took with me. My surmise that we were going down the valley again proves correct. We left our camp at Halltown yesterday morning at 7 o’clock, marched towards Charleston [Charles Town], finding that the “Johnnies” had fallen back. We halted a short distance from Charleston [Charles Town], sent out a line of skirmishers & awaited their return. At 3 we started again & encamped inside some breastworks thrown up a week ago by the 6th Corps. We have had a good nights rest and are awaiting orders to move again. Our march this time has been much easier than our former, partly because it has been cooler & then we have not marched so far & have got toughened.
I am glad you feel so much interest in me but I know how apt you are to worry unnecessarily & to suffer more from anxiety than I do in the realization. As long as I have my health & as good an appetite as I now have, I do not have any fear.
5 P.M. We have been laying here quietly all day, eating & drinking & having a good time generally. A right smart skirmish has been going on all day in our front & as I am writing, the artillery firing is getting quite close. There is no danger of a fight, however. The “Johnnies” won’t care about attacking us in our present entrenchments. Last night at 11 o’clock an order came to draw five days rations. I thought then we were certainly going on a forced march down the valley but this morning at 6 A.M., we are still in camp & everything is quiet as usual.
Our company is just in front of the Gen’s headquarters & my friend Adjutant is nearby. I had a long talk with him yesterday in regard to Regimental Officers. He gave me some news which I will give you but you must not mention or lisp a word to anyone. Charges have been preferred against Col. [Robert] Wilson by Col. Tileston A. Barker & sent through the War Department to be served in him. Gen. [Henry Warner] Birge has them but has not yet served them & put him under arrest but will probably be obliged to soon unless something strange turns up. I have no doubt but that if Col. Wilson should be brought to trial, he would be broke. Col. Barker’s loafing around Washington gives him an influence that Col. Wilson cannot counteract. Adjutant [Carroll D.] Wright will never come back to the regiment while Maj. [Alexander] Gardiner is here & I don’t blame him. Everybody hates the Major. He says he is going to resign as soon as this campaign is over. We shall all be glad to have him.
I suppose H. leaves for W. today. I shall write him today to send my shirt by Express & then send for them there. My appetite is getting tremendous & I can scarcely get enough to eat tho’ I forage a good deal.
5 P.M. Our mail goes tonight & I must finish this post haste. There is nothing new to add since morning. I have been superintending the policing of my camp, the cleaning of the guns, repairing of abatis & breastworks. I have had my tent put up with Lt. [Jesse A.] Fiske of Co. K—a son of Thomas F. of Dublin. He is a good fellow. His company is next to mine now. Co. E is away & he & I are going to pitch our tents together hereafter. Lt. Howard carries one piece of my shelter and my rubber coat on his horse & I am going to carry a woolen blanket. Lt. Fiske will carry two pieces of tent & a rubber blanket so we shall be all right for any weather. I do not imagine we shall remain here a great while longer or else give up the campaign in this department. The news seems to be favorable for us from all quarters.
Tell me about Keene’s quota and how many they have raised. Tomorrow will be the 2d anniversary of my enlistment. I cannot say that I am in the least sorry for it. Tomorrow we muster for pay. I shall have $374.00 due me then, Love to all enquiring friends. Write me often. Ever your affectionate son, — John